Insights out of blinkered vision

30th June 2000 at 01:00
YOU can learn a lot from ignorance. I was reminded of this when my favourite TV show, Frasier, came to an end with English Daphne fleeing a family wedding. This last episode sent me back to the fateful final instalment of Friends in which Ross's wedding to English Emily also went wrong. In both cases the scriptwriters demonstrated their lack of faith in transatlantic marriage and an extraordinary inability to write English characters. Millicent Martin as Daphne's mum was just as bad as Tom Conti as Emily's father: good British actors having to cope with writers and, presumably, directors who want nothing more from them than a set of grotesque mannerisms.

My children of course objected strongly. "No one talks like that Dad!" Well no one except that well-known Cockney Dick Van Dyke. It's always struck me that Poppins syndrome is something we should all bear in mind when trying to understand other cultures. We Brits know our society isn't any longer divided between loveable sweeps and emotionally retarded toffs (assuming that it ever was) but that doesn't stop even the first-class minds behind Frasier getting us wrong. P> Original thought isn't easy which is why most people perceive other nations via a series of stereotypical images. When I ask my three about the Irish they know they are warm and impulsive because they've seen Titanic. They know that Jews are victims, Africans are starving and Australians like a barbie.

How does one raise a true awareness of other cultures in the young? From what I can see of my children's school work they are mainly encouraged to like other cultures or feel guilty about them. Anything ethnic is ipso facto beautiful. Other religions are profound. Tribesman are invariably noble. These statements may defuse racial hatred but they are still cliches and cliches are the crutch that supports ignorance.

British schools should teach how we are seen abroad to encourage British children not to fall into blithe generalisation. Classes should have Libraries of Ignorance to which I'd contribute a letter Ginny received from her penfriend in Brussels. "We like your pop groups and your queen but why are British men always fighting? It seems you are either Grenadier Guards or football supporters."


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